Sunday, February 25, 2024

Brown: “Zero benefit from zero-fees policy”

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The government’s new policy of giving tertiary students their first year at university for free has backfired, with Universities New Zealand recently confirming no rise in new enrolments, while facing an increase in processing costs.

This is disappointing, especially given the massive price tag associated with the policy, and the government should be rethinking their plan to extend it to three years by 2024. If the policy is providing no benefit at great cost, what is the point?

Many universities are also reporting an increase in costs associated with processing enrolments, largely due to confusion around eligibility and how to apply, as well as hundreds of extra IT hours spent attempting to handle the change.

The main reason Labour introduced this policy was to encourage students to pursue tertiary education who otherwise might be put off by the cost. The fact that we have seen no increase in enrolments as a result means the government is spending money fixing a problem that doesn’t exist.

They seem to have ignored the fact that tertiary education in New Zealand was already among the most accessible in the world, due to existing policies like interest-free loans and weekly allowances for students from low-income families that don’t have to be paid back.

It’s also somewhat surprising, given their propensity for working groups and enquiries, to learn that the Government failed to undertake a cost-benefit analysis before putting this into place. Had they done so, they might have realised this policy simply wasn’t going to work.

Instead of creating policy designed to grab votes, perhaps the Government should focus on ideas that will make a real difference in the lives of our young people and improve the quality of education for all New Zealanders.

The $2.8 billion price tag for this policy could have been used on many other more meaningful policies.

Simeon Brown

MP for Pakuranga

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